Alistair Brownlee is the Olympic, European and Commonwealth triathlon champion. His brother Jonathan was the 2012 world champion, 2013 runner up and Olympic bronze medallist. SPIKES catches up with the Yorkshire duo to find out more about the cross country backgrounds and road running ambitions of triathlon’s leading family.

Was running where it all started for you? Or was cycling and swimming always something you did growing up as well?

Alistair

Probably cross country was the first thing I did. School boy cross country when I was in year six. I was at school in Leeds at the time, I think it was like an under-11s race.

Jonathan

It was the first thing we both did really. We both did a lot of cross country right up until recently, although less so in the last couple of years. Right up until the ages of 18/19 I was doing cross country near enough every weekend right through the winter.

And you still compete in races, don’t you?

Jonathan

I raced the nationals last year. I didn’t race in them this year because the triathlon season started early. I came like 12th. It wasn’t the best run last year. It was 12km, and at national class that's a long way.

I raced inter-counties the year before and did well there. I race less and less ever year, but I love it. I think it’s really, really good training. It’s hard just to drop in and drop out, because 12km can feel a long way.

Brownlee Brothers ()

Outside the triathlon season Alistair (L) and Jonathan (R) compete in cross country and fell running races in Yorkshire, where they live and train

Does your coach have any problems with you running on trails?

Alistair

Well he’s a running coach so he really likes us doing cross country. We do all our running pretty much off road. Most of our steady miles, 90% of them will probably be off road.

We do a session every week which is basically round some big fields, the same place I ran some of my first cross country races as a schoolboy in the Yorkshire champs. We train on those fields every week now. And then a track session.

So we do a massive amount of running off road anyway. It’s soft, it’s good for the fitness without battering the legs and joints and stuff.

Cross country is a very different challenge to running on the road, but I think as well if you’re running and you’re fit, then you’re fit. You’ll be good over anything relative to how good you are.

What sort of track sessions do you do?

Jonathan

We do a track session on a Tuesday night, normally about 4km to 5km worth of effort. The usual pyramids – 400m, 600m, 800m, 1km, 800m, 600m, 400m; or 5x1km or 5x800m. Just the normal things.

There’s only so many things you can do with intervals. But always about 5km. And then on a Saturday we do more grass interval sessions. Anywhere again up to 30 minutes of effort. And again your standard 7-6-5-4-3-2-minutes. Or 3x10 minutes, or whatever. Again there’s only so many ways you can run for 30 minutes. But we do that as part of a group as well.

Alistair Brownlee ()

Alistair Brownlee shakes hands with Javier Gómez after the Brit pipped the Spaniard to Olympic gold in 2012

Is that a group of other triathletes or just straight runners?

Alistair

It’s a mixture of runners and triathletes really.

What’s the dynamic like?

Jonathan

It’s nice. I always enjoy it. Obviously you want to get the most out of your sessions. If you turn up, the runners are always trying to drop the triathletes, thinking ‘right we’ve got to drop them’ kind of thing. And we’re obviously trying to hang on or try to drop them as we get fitter.

We run with cross country runners quite a lot of the time. They’re a lot fitter in January, February and March time, and then when we get into the season we get a little bit fitter.

I enjoy it. It’s nice to run with other people and it’s nice to push each other on during a session and get through it together.

Is that set-up quite typical of others on the triathlon circuit?

Alistair

I think it’s very different for different people. There are a lot of people who don’t try and run quite as high end as us, I suppose.

But out of the people who are real, proper runners it’s probably quite similar. They do some decent miles, do some good sessions, mix it with other runners, and yeah follow a similar kind of programme to what we do.


Never mind spikes, an ice axe would be more appropriate for this kind of run

With you running on so many different surfaces, you must be flipping between different trainers and shoes for each session. Does that present any problems with injuries?

Alistair

We’ve got lots of pairs of shoes!

How many?

Jonathan

I try to run in two pairs at any time, and then kind of swap them a bit. But we have obviously off road ones as well. During the winter we run in off road shoes a lot of the time because you need that grip. I always think you’re much more likely to get injured slipping from side to side than you are anything else.

And then this time of year you don’t need to run in off road shoes as much. Boston are my running, which are perfect for me. And then for sessions I run on a lighter shoe. So yeah we have lots of pairs. Spikes for cross country, and for our sessions on a Saturday when it’s a bit wet.

Does the transition to the road present any problems?

Alistair

Not really. I tend use the same shoes for the track session or a grass session in the summer that I race in. Or very, very similar at least. It’s a trade off between being a bit naïve on the road and knocking your legs up a bit, and running on the road and risking injuries the rest of the time.

I think if I was doing marathon I’d probably do more running on the road to make sure I harden my legs up a bit. I think the thing is with the Adidas shoes that we run in, they’re all pretty similar. So whether it’s an XT for off road or a Boston for most of the training miles or one of the lighter Takumi Sens, they’re all like similar. So they might have different soles on but the uppers are really similar. So you just put them on and they’re almost identical fits, just the soles are different and they’re lighter or heavier or have more grip, or whatever, but they feel the same to put on.

Alistair won his second race of the 2015 ITU World Triathlon Series in London. Jonathan has also won twice this season.

The 10k time Alistair posted in London 2012 was only 90 seconds outside the time Mo Farah won 10,000m gold in [Alistair’s 10k split was 29:07, Jonathan’s 29:37 – that’s after a 1500m swim and 40km cycle, don’t forget].

Would either of you consider moving in to road races as your careers progress?

Jonathan

Defo. The marathon is something I’d absolutely love to do in the future. Triathletes should be OK. Obviously we’ve got a big, big brace of endurance training. I’d have to change my training massively, do a lot more road running, but I’d love to do a marathon.

Watching it on TV, the London marathon looks incredible. I’d love to give that a go. Obviously I’d never run anywhere near the front. I don’t have any idea what I could run, but I’d love to give it a go.

Alistair

I’d love to run a marathon [Alistair has indicated elsewhere that he thinks he could run a 26-miler somewhere in the 2:10-2:15 range]. But who knows at the moment?

I’ve done a bit of 10k running on the track. I’ve done quite a few road races over the years, and I’d love to do more on the track. But it’s f***in hard running 10k on the track! Hard to train for and hard to do. But I’d love to do a bit more. At the moment it’s all about Rio 2016, but after that who knows?